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Turning 72

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On February 8 I turned 72. Which doesn't seem like a big deal, but I remember that my father and grandfather were still working when they were 72. In 1957 my grandfather was doing the books for our family business in Newport Beach, California. He didn't look old but he dressed old - he typically wore string ties and a plaid shirt that didn't match his plaid sports jacket -- and he moved slowly, as if he was in constant fear of falling. When my father was 72, in 1983, he was selling real estate in Morro Bay. He didn't look old either, but he was starting to slow down, by that time he had survived two serious heart attacks.

Like my father and grandfather I look younger than my age. But I have the luxury of not working and I am physically more active than they were. I don't think my 72 is as old as theirs.

I look like my grandfather, which doesn't thrill me because I didn't like him very much. Harry Izenour was a dogmatic Republican, a Nixon supporter, and a man that didn't countenance different opinions. My enduring memories of him are warnings of the communist menace and, after a heated political discussion, his turning off his hearing aide.

My father and grandfather were retail merchants who owned their own businesses. They came from the "keep your nose to the grindstone and your shoulder to the wheel" school of American morality. "Treat others fairly and they will treat you fairly." They believed in the Horatio Alger theory of American life, "If you work hard, you can become whatever you want; rise as far as you want."

In many ways, my life has been a culmination of their dreams. This is particularly true of my father, who was very proud of what I achieved in the Silicon Valley - even if he didn't always understand what I was doing.

But we are different in several ways. I am much more political, partially because I made the time to be an activist. I am a child of the sixties and I am constantly outraged that women, people of color, the poor, gays and lesbians, folks with disabilities, and many others, don't have the same privileges that white men are accustomed to. I believe that our democracy is threatened by fascism. My grandfather was frightened by communists; I fear Republicans.

If I let myself, I could be angry all the time. I've learned to be careful what I write about and seldom write on certain topics (such as Israel and the Palestinians) because if I did I would nurture resentment. I choose not to be angry every day. (That's one of the changes in my life: I'm not as angry as I once was.)

There's another difference between me and my father and grandfather. I have a more developed sense that I should live one day at a time. I'm much more concerned about living in the present moment. (I'm not sure my grandfather ever considered this.)

Being a Quaker has helped me focus on being here, now. So has my wife, Kathy. Years ago, we saw Thich Nhat Hahn speak to a small gathering in Santa Cruz. He had a companion, Sister Pho, whose responsibility was to ring "the bell of mindfulness" and bring Hahn back to the present moment. Kathy serves a similar function in my life; she gets my attention and brings me back to the present moment.

For Christmas we got an Australian Shepherd puppy, Milou; a smart dog that requires a lot of exercise. We take two long walks each day. It's given me a new appreciation for, and perspective on, Berkeley. I've never been to the local park at 9:30 at night and seen the full moon overhead and heard the raccoons rustling in the ivy (and had a puppy run to me for protection). Milou has helped me to be in the present moment and appreciate that I live in two beautiful places.

Music also helps. That's another difference between me and my father and grandfather. Since the fifties I've loved listening to music of all kinds. Blues. Jazz. Rock. Americana. Music kept me grounded and alive.

When my grandfather was 72, he thought his life was over. Even though he lived another dozen years, he diminished. When my father was 72, he began to fear that his life would be over before he had made arrangements for my mother, a difficult person. Amazingly, he lived another twenty-one years and died four years after my mother.

Now I am 72. Unlike my father and grandfather, I don't think my life is over or that I am starting the long decline. I expect to live quite awhile longer but I realize this final stage is not about longevity so much as quality of life. So I have come to appreciate certain things that improve the quality of my life:

Daily exercise
Living in the present moment
Loving family and friends
Writing
Staying engaged in politics
Listening to music
Working on our country property
Recognizing how blessed I have been
Loving Kathy